Colombia's Grupo SURA to destine cash flow for paying down debt

BOGOTA, May 16 (Reuters) - Colombia’s largest holding company, Grupo SURA, will use most of its forecast cash flow of around 250 billion pesos ($60.8 million) to reduce debt as costs grow amid rising interest rates, a top executive said on Monday.

The conglomerate, which holds stakes in 43 companies including bank Bancolombia, food processor Grupo Nutresa, and insurance company Suramericana, among others, saw its first-quarter profit more than double to 429.3 billion pesos ($104.4 million).

The company also expects to record a net profit for the year of around 1.7 trillion pesos, equivalent to growth of between 10% and 15%, said Ricardo Jaramillo, Grupo SURA’s vice president of business development and finance.

“We are focused on maintaining organic growth and also how to accelerate the de-leveraging of Grupo SURA, so in this allocation of capital, the use of those 250 billion pesos will very surely be destined towards lowering debt,” Jaramillo said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

“We’re aware that we’re in an environment of rising interest rates which is going to have some impact on companies’ debt costs,” he added. “We must be careful not to increase debt at this time.”

Grupo SURA’s net financial debt closed the first quarter at 4.5 trillion pesos, down 4.4% compared to last December.

Grupo SURA’s insurance subsidiary, Suramericana, will invest $80 million to $85 million this year across the nine countries it operates in Latin America with a focus on its operating model and technology, Jaramillo said.

Sura Asset Management will allocate approximately $60 million to developing new sales channels, products, and also use some funds for investing as seed capital, he added.

Despite difficulties caused by the war in Ukraine and lockdowns in China, Grupo SURA remains hopeful that its good run will continue, Jaramillo said.

The company has a presence in 11 countries in Latin America, with investments in sectors including finance, energy and infrastructure, as well as others. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Bernard Orr)